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Writing #4 : "You missed a comma" and the Copy Edit Banshees

I've lost touch with this blog. In thinking of how to reenter the forest of On a Limb, I thought I would share some of the things I've learned while I've been away.

Copy Edit Banshee suck.

It doesn't matter what, or how hard you try, if you write in English, someone is going to come along and tell you that your grammar is wrong.

This is just a fact of life.

There are a couple reasons for this.

  1. Unlike French or German, there is no final standard for English. In fact, we first published The Fey, we had a British copyeditor. He insisted that the book had Queen's English editing. Of course, American copy editing is wildly different. The moment the book was out, I started to hear about misplaced comments. There are still reviews on Amazon talking about the "poor grammar" (meaning British) used in the book.

  2. Somehow, it's acceptable to bully people about grammar, because you think they aren't as smart as you. Now, I grew up in a time when it wasn't all that cool to be "smart." But a lot of people were encouraged to flaunt their smarty-pants ways. So no matter what you accomplish, someone from the sidelines will tell you that you did it wrong because they are "smarter" than you.

Here's a little tip from someone who's been in the frey since 2001:

About half the time, people's "corrections" are wrong.

Take for example something someone recently took me to task over:

"There should not be space around an m-dash."

Turns out, this is not a rule anywhere - not even in the Chicago Manual of Style. This is an issue of style.

I happen to like more white space. I think it's easier to read.

Most of the time, copy edit corrections are actually wrong.

We spend a small fortune on quality copyediting.

It's our biggest expense. I spend months copy and proofediting books.

And still we miss things.

As soon as you fix one thing, you create a bevy of problems somewhere else.

That's the nature of publishing. This has ALWAYS been the nature of publishing.

You can go back and look at Tolkein's notes on the second edition of the Lords of the Rings. Some thoughtful typeset changed all of the "elfish" to "elvish" despite the fact that Tolkien preferred the former. Check out any corporate published book now. Look at Harry Potter.

Copyedits abound.

Now, I could get into the research behind the personality disorder of an out of control bullying copy edit banshee, but why bother? Copy edit banshees know there's something wrong with them. They don't need me to tell them.

I've met some really nice, want to help folks who feel compelled to point out copy errors. These folks, like my buddy PM, want to help. I'm not talking about this kind of help. I'm talking about the other folks - the meanies.

My final thoughts come from Stephen Fry's brilliant rant about Pedants.

Maybe it's time to let that copyedit thing go, and just enjoy the work.